ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Political allies of Pervez Musharraf acknowledged Wednesday that the Pakistani president could quit rather than face impeachment, as another provincial assembly voted against him and speculation mounted that his resignation was imminent.
While Musharraf has given no public sign that he plans to resign, political pressure is mounting on the U.S. ally, who dominated Pakistan for eight years until February elections brought embittered rivals to power.
Asked late Wednesday whether he would stay in office to help the country, Musharraf told a group of well-wishers, "God willing, I will try." The president spoke at an official function to mark Pakistan's Independence Day, which falls on Thursday.
In an address later broadcast on national television, the president said Pakistan needed political stability to fix its economy and fight terrorism.
"I appeal to all elements to adopt an approach of reconciliation so that there is political stability and we can firmly confront the real problems facing the country," he said. "Differences should be buried."
Earlier, the assembly in southern Sindh province passed a resolution urging him to resign the third of Pakistan's four provinces to do so this week. An impeachment motion could be introduced in the federal parliament next week accusing the president of violating the constitution and gross misconduct.
The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party says the allegations are designed to deflect public attention from the government's failure to tackle economic and security problems. Inflation is running at over 20 percent and Islamic militancy is rife.
While the party says it wants Musharraf to fight the impeachment, it acknowledges he could relinquish the presidency.
"He has two options: to stay and fight or quit and go home," Mushahid Hussain, PML-Q secretary-general, told The Associated Press. "If he fights back we are with him. We will support him, and that is the preferred option."
Hussain said that if Musharraf did decide to quit he should first restore the senior judges he sacked when he imposed emergency rule in November.
"Then history will see him in a better light," he said.
Another senior official in the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Musharraf had discussed the possibility of resigning with friends and close aides from time to time since the February elections. The official spoke to the president Tuesday and knew of no imminent decision to quit.
The Daily Times newspaper on Wednesday cited an unidentified PML-Q leader as saying Musharraf had decided in principle to resign and announce it on Independence Day.
It reported that if Musharraf resigns ahead of impeachment, the ruling coalition would allow him to go into self-exile.
Neither PML-Q official could confirm that report, and Musharraf's spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment on it.
Musharraf has defied predictions of his political demise before. But diplomats from Western countries who have counted on him as an anti-terror ally say privately that his chances of survival are narrowing.
Even the president's supporters caution against him exercising his last-resort power to dissolve parliament a step that would likely spark outrage and require the support of the army.
"Using that power would be undemocratic under the present circumstances even though it is in the constitution. The democratic process should continue," Hussain said.
At a meeting Aug. 7, top generals agreed the military would remain neutral if the coalition pursues impeachment, a senior military officer said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had conveyed this to the president, the officer said.
In a further sign of Musharraf's ebbing influence, a party that has long supported him, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, abstained from voting on the resolution against the president passed in the Sindh assembly by 93 votes to zero, as lawmakers shouted "Go, Musharraf, Go!"
"We are neutral," said a party leader, Sardar Ahmed.
Musharraf's allies claim the coalition will face an uphill struggle to get the two-thirds majority required in a joint sitting of both houses of the federal parliament needed to strip him of the presidency.
But the coalition says it has enough support to prevail.
"We have the numbers, and you have already seen the tidal wave against him (Musharraf) in the provinces," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.